Now middle infielders offer offense -- and strikeouts
As strikeouts soar in Major League Baseball, many of them are coming from areas that formerly were not known for offensive production: second base and shortstop. Three of the top four strikeout men in the National League last season played second.
Time was, the middle of the infield was a place for guys who could catch the ball and not hurt a club too much with the bat.
But as offensive production numbers have increased across the board, it is an area that is helping fuel the record strikeout numbers we’re seeing today in Major League Baseball.
Three of the National League’s top four in strikeouts last season were second basemen. The Nationals’ Danny Espinosa led the league at 189, the Brewers’ Rickie Weeks was third at 169 and the Braves’ Dan Uggla was fourth at 168.
Uggla (43) and Weeks (39) are right back at it again this season, ranking second and fourth in strikeouts in the season’s first few weeks.
“I remember Billy Ripken when I was in Baltimore, we didn’t care what he hit as long as he was doing the little things offensively to help us,” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who was an executive with the Orioles for nine seasons beginning in 1986. “Today, it’s the mentality that everybody is viewed by offensive stats.
“Does anybody grade how many times a guy battles? Does anybody grade how many times he moves the runners?”
Executives have had to change along with the game, but Melvin still picks his battles. Milwaukee utility infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, who played third base in the absence of Aramis Ramirez earlier this season, is one.
“Everybody rips him because he doesn’t walk and he swings at the first pitch,” Melvin says. “The league average when you put the first pitch in play is .320. Maybe the first pitch is the best pitch to hit.”
Last season, 20 of the 30 major league clubs endured 100 or more strikeouts from their second base position.
And 23 of the 30 clubs watched their shortstop position strike out 100 or more times.
“In our era, when I first came up, the scout who signed me said if I hit .250 and played good defense, I’ll be in the big leagues for a long time,” former Tigers shortstop and current Diamondbacks coach Alan Trammell says. “That was 1976.
“I was at the early wave of the start of a little bit more offense. Obviously it’s been taken, by middle infielders, to a different level.”
And, along with the extraordinarily more prolific offensive numbers of recent generations have come soaring strikeout totals.
Be careful what you wish for.
Or, you take what you get.
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